Thursday, January 31, 2013

Executives Learn Ethics the Hard Way: From Marines

Stars and Stripes ran a fascinating article a couple of days ago that I think many readers of The White Rhino Report will find worthy of their time and attention.  The article, "Executives learn ethics the hard way: From Marines" is written by Jim Michaels and originally appeared in USA Today.

The article caught my attention because it describes an innovative program that involves taking business executives out of their element and comfort zone and thrusting them into field training exercises at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.  Having spent a week at Quantico myself a few summers ago, I was fascinated. to see what these business leaders had experienced and learned.  (See link below for my three Blog pieces about my time at Quantico)

The Quantico Diaries

I am pleased to share an excerpt from Michaels' article, and I encourage you click on the link below to continue reading the full article.

QUANTICO, Va. – Sunlight was filtering through the trees as the team trudged up yet another hill to the final objective of the morning.
The mission was simple. The team was to meet with a local village priest and establish a relationship.
The plan quickly fell apart when the group realized the solemn ceremony they had been invited to was a forced "wedding" in which a bride whose hands were bound by rope was carried screaming into a tent.
Now they were faced with a choice. Protect the woman from possible harm and alienate an important ally or allow the wedding to take place and avoid interfering in a culture they barely understood.
"I was torn," said Elton Mile, a 28-year-old financial adviser with Morgan Stanley, who led the team.
Mile was part of a group of executives who came to the Marine Corps base here as part of a three-day course to learn ethical leadership from combat leaders. In the wake of the Enron debacle, the collapse of Lehman Bros., Bernard Madoff and other moral lapses, business schools are re-examining ethics training. Traditionally, business schools have taught the skills needed to maximize profits, and given short shrift to softer subjects, such as ethics.
Some executives are turning to the military to fill the gap. The military has long drilled values into their young leaders, emphasizing responsibility and accountability.
Apparently it's paid off. Effi Benmelech, an associate professor of finance at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, co-authored a study completed last year that looked at company chief executive officers who had military experience.
The results were stark. "People who served in the military are less likely to be involved in fraud," Benmelech said. The study looked at the top leaders of 1,500 of the largest publicly traded companies from 1980 to 2006.
The study did not address why that was the case, but Benmelech speculates it is a combination of two factors: People who join the military have a strong value system, and the training in the services emphasizes ethics and responsibility.

Executives Learn Ethics the hard way from Marines

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Are Creative People More Prone to Depression? - Arts Hub article by Deborah Stone

My friend Will Curry, violist for the National Tour of "Les Miserables," has shared a fascinating article about the tendency of artists to battle depression.  The original article (linked below) was written by Deborah Stone and appeared in the on-line publication "Arts Hub."

Here is an excerpt from this excellent article.

"Since Plato it has been argued that ‘madness’ is twinned with creative genius, that the agonies we now understand as depression and the turbulence we now recognise as mania are part of a Faustian bargain with inspiration.

Science has proved the mad genius is not a myth. Studies of artists and writers collated in Scientific American confirm that artists and writers are up to 20 times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder (also called manic depressive illness) and 10 times more likely to suffer from depression.

One per cent of the general population is bipolar but seven studies over the past 30 years have found rates of bipolar between 5% and 40%, reaching as high as 70% when cyclothymia, a milder syndrome of cycles of elation and gloom, is included.

In the case of unipolar or major depression, the population rate is about 5% but the rate among artists and writers in the various studies between 15% and 50%.

Both these conditions are strongly associated with suicide and, most disturbingly, artists are 18 times more likely to suicide than the general population.

Why is depression so prevalent among artists? How does a genetic flaw turn into a creative bonus? And how does an artist access the benefits of that creativity without suffering the potentially fatal harm of a major mood disorder or even the lesser but still painful bouts of minor depression?

Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, who wrote the landmark Scientific American article, is an international authority on the subject, both as a psychiatrist and as a person with bipolar.  She observes that manic-depressives in their high or manic state think faster and associate more freely. When manic, people need less sleep, have unusual energy and focus and an inflated self-belief, all of which may allow the production of original work.

Depression may simply be the flip side of the creative manic state, the price artists pay for their bouts of productive work.  But Jamison suggests the bipolar personality may also help artists in a more general sense. ‘The manic-depressive temperament is, in a biological sense, an alert, sensitive system that reacts strongly and swiftly. It responds to the world with a wide range of emotional, perceptual, intellectual, behavioural and energy changes,’ she writes."

I encourage you to read the entire article and share it with anyone you know who swims in an artistic sea.

Why Are Creative People More Prone to Depression?

A Dark and Moving Novel of Living with PTSD - "Fugue State" by Steffan Piper

Steffan Piper's novel, "Fugue State," is a thinly veiled memoir of his life in Alaska and beyond.  The protagonist, Sebastien Ranes, grows up in a family in which the emotional thermometer matches the Alaskan arctic cold outdoors in Eagle River in the foothills above Anchorage.  The lonely teenager looks for meaning and love in all the wrong places - with women, petty theft, alcohol, the Marine Corps.  The result is a dark and deeply moving tale of a desperate  search.

Near the end of the book, Sebastien returns to Alaska after having been drummed out of the Marine Corps for physically assaulting an NCO during Operation Desert Storm.  What had looked briefly like a promising career in the Corps had collapsed like a sand castle, leaving the young lance corporal shaken, directionless, bitter and empty.  He returns to Eagle River to retrieve his beloved Jeep Wagoneer, which serves in the novel as a metaphor for his lost condition and his fugue state.  During his time away from home in the USMC, he had placed his Wagoneer in hibernation, parking it near the home of his mother and abusive step-father, buried under a tarp.  In his teenage years, the Jeep had been his only reliable source of comfort, warmth, protection, and brief bouts of physical passion with his girlfriend.  It lay dormant for almost two years, with the battery slowly dying.

Ranes experienced his own fugue state - running from the law, running from himself, never really fitting in with other jar heads, and finally drinking himself into oblivion and a discharge from the Marines.  As the action wraps up inconclusively in this tale, he replaces the battery in his beloved Jeep and prepares to take a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners.  Will he find success, happiness, and relief from his PTSD symptoms?  The author leaves us wondering and hoping.

Piper is very transparent in commenting upon his reasons for writing this book.

"Living with PTSD is a bitch.  Most of us who do live with it do so with our middle finger locked in the 'fuck you' position for a very long time.  It is an unintended side effect, but understandable and naturally occurring.  Being disrespectful and untrusting of rank and authority is a key factor.  The journey back is always a very long and difficult one.  A lot of people around us never really understand it. . .

My goal was to write my own experience within the Marine Corps and not delve into cliche or even go where everyone else goes and stand on stereotype. . . Writing this has left a hole in me where it slept in my chest for years, as the last book did, but the point of it was to hope that it may help someone out there realize that they, too, are not alone in the pain or confusion they're going through or live with." (Pages 446-7)

This novel is a welcome contribution to the growing corpus of books that begin to share and to elucidate the loneliness and pain of PTSD.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seth Godin Channels Dr. Seuss in "V Is for Vulnerable - Life Outside the Comfort Zone"

I always get something out of time spent with Seth Godin - in person or in print.  Seth returned to Cambridge, MA  yesterday, and enchanted an audience at MIT's Kresge Auditorium with insights from his new book, "The Icarus Deception."  As a "Free  Prize Inside," he gave a copy of this little gem - "V Is for Vulnerable - Life Outside the Comfort Zone," to each person who attended the seminar.

Illustrated with cartoons by Hugh MacLeod, this "ABC Book for Grownups" is a delight - doing what Seth does so well - conveying profound truth in simple and memorable terms.  In his brief introduction to this book, Seth makes it clear that he is channeling Dr. Seuss by offering this type of literary confection:


'The Lorax' makes me cry.  Every time. 

Dr. Seuss made me giggle when I was three.  He taught me how to read when I was five.  Today, he reminds me of how important our future is, whether or not we have kids.

Every one of his books is incredibly simple, some with just three hundred words inside.  But the ideas stick with us, and even more powerfully, push us to take action, to embrace opportunity, not to merely watch and wait.

I'm hoping that this book I created with Hugh MacLeod will help you choose to see the world differently.  Radically differently.  I'm hoping that instead of asking 'How can this book help me do a better job to keep the world as it is?' perhaps you can momentarily choose to see the world as a different place altogether.

I'm trying to get under your skin.  I'm trying to get you to stop being a spectator and a pawn in the industrial system that raised us, and maybe, just maybe, stand up and do something that scares you.  I want you to do what you're meant to do., what we're all meant to do, which is the hard work of creating art.

The artist  wonders, 'How can I break this?' and 'Is it  interesting?'

Go break something

Seth Godin" (Introduction)

Seth's manifesto tone reminds me of Bono's verbal aside in U2's iconic "Joshua Tree" album.  As he talks about issues like peace, he interjects the rhetorical question, "Am I bugging you?"

Seth is bugging us, and I hope he continues to do so for a long while to come.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Do You Know The Work of Daniel Pink? Review of His New Book "To Sell Is Human"

Do you already know the work of Daniel Pink?  If you do, then his latest book will help add to your appreciation of this thought leader and the ways in which he re-frames old ideas and presents new ideas for the reader's consideration and implementation.  Pink will make you think!  Sales!

In "To Sell Is Human - The Surprising Truth about Moving Others," Pink posits the idea that we are now all in the business of selling - products, ideas, ourselves, obedience.  As he has done so beautifully in his prior works, Pink collects data and anecdotes and weaves them together into a narrative that is both enjoyable and instructive.  He gives many examples of how the days of the door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman and the used car parking lot huckster have transmogrified into a era in which we all need to move beyond traditional stereotypes of sales.

The book is neatly divided into three section:

  • Rebirth of a Salesman
  • How to Be
  • What to Do

In each chapter, after sharing concepts and examples of those concepts being put into action, he summarizes the contents of the chapter in a pithy way - employing the concept in his own writing and "selling," and then wrapping up with a sample case.  Here is a wonderful example from his chapter on how to "pitch" an idea.  He has been discussing a community's need to raise funds to rebuild a decaying bridge that links towns on both sides of a river.

"Your Twitter pitch could include an online link to an artist's rendering of the bridge along with a list of its benefits and entice people to click it with: See what tomorrow's Beeston and Arborville can look like & why we need to create that future.

If you're sending information to your fellow Beeston citizens, your subject line pitch could be: 3 reasons why Beeston families support a new bridge.

Your rhyming pitch?  Opportunities are wide on the other side.

Your question pitch could help people think through their own experiences: Should it be such a pain to get to Arborville?

And your one word pitch could explain the reason for your efforts (not to mention an indispensable lesson of this chapter): Connect

(Page 174)

One of my favorite parts of the book includes Pink's telling about shadowing entrepreneurial figures - San Francisco's last surviving Fuller Brush salesman, and Shamus Jones, Founder of Brooklyn Brine, an artisanal pickle company.  I was so intrigued by the story of Brooklyn Brine that I put down the book and Googled Brooklyn Brine and spent some time enjoying the videos that tell the story of this start-up success.  I guess Pink knows how to move a reader!

Brooklyn Brine Company

I cannot resist a good pun - or a bad one, for that matter - so I will close with one.  In a world in which we all need to know how to sell ourselves, you need to read this book, or you will be in a pickle!



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Thoughtful Discussion of Justice and the Film "Zero Dark Thirty"

My good friend, Jack Richardson, was kind enough to make me aware of a very well thought through response to the controversial film, "Zero Dark Thirty."   The article is written by Paul D. Miller, who serves as assistant professor of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  The link below will connect you to the full article as it appears in the Blog "Books & Culture - a Christian Review."

"Justice at Zero Dark Thirty" by Paul D. Miller

The article does an excellent job of cataloguing and analyzing many of the thoughts, questions and feelings that I experienced as I watched this film.  The article is relevant on several fronts.  Paul Miller confronts his response to the film and the events that it portrays from a variety of perspectives.  He is an expert in issues of security, he served both in the Army and in the CIA.  One of the CIA officers killed in the suicide bombing that is depicted in the film was a friend of his.  He has a strong Christian faith, and he looks at issues of violence and justice through the lens of that faith and of his own personal experience as a philosopher and warrior.

You may not agree with his perspective, but he lays out the reasons for his thoughts and feelings with great clarity.  I quote here from the end of his article.  I commend to you the article in its entirety, and look forward to enlightened, respectful and civil discourse about these important issues.

"Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and spy—and a good swath of the American population—woke up on May 2, 2011, heard the news, and wished they had been there in Abbottabad. Zero Dark Thirty gives us the vicarious experience of having been there. Bigelow wisely underplays the climactic moment—even refusing to show bin Laden on camera—lest it degenerate into a Tarantino revenge fantasy. Even so, I confess it was gratifying. The finale offers a national catharsis after a decade of frustration.

I recognize how bloodthirsty that sounds. But I don't think bloodlust is the only danger, or even the biggest danger, in relishing the climax of Zero Dark Thirty. Read the Psalms again and note how often David rejoices over his enemies' defeat. We spiritualize too much if we think these Psalms only apply to the "enemy" of temptation, or sin, or the devil. Sometimes we have actual human enemies who want to kill us, and defeating them is good. No man's death is occasion for a party—the celebrations on the National Mall were unseemly—but as I told my students the next morning, justice is good, and sobering.

No, a bigger danger, perhaps, is in cheapening the sacrifice, risk, and work of those who were actually, not vicariously, involved in the hunt. Some viewers will enjoy a fleeting and shallow sense of pride and pleasure before moving on with life. It may feel gratifying to watch it happen on screen, but take a moment to recognize that you didn't really do anything to make it happen. Watch and enjoy Zero Dark Thirty—it is a very good movie—but don't treat it like a cheap thrill.

How? And where do we want to go from here? These questions, implicitly raised by the closing scene and the film's brilliant final line, leave us to consider, once again, how to respond. In the closing months of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on the nation in his Second Inaugural 'to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.' Here's an idea for a responsible approach to Zero Dark Thirty. Watch the movie, then donate the equivalent of your movie ticket, if not more, to the CIA Officer's Memorial Foundation. The Foundation provides educational support to the children of CIA officers killed in the line of duty. My friend left behind three of them."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Timely and Judicious Call to Civility from the President of the University of Notre Dame

Several decades ago, my predecessor as the president of the University of Notre Dame, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, was presented with a dilemma. A Jewish student, after repeated hazing by some kids in his dorm, had left campus and gone home. After thinking it over, Father Hesburgh summoned the perpetrators. "Pack your bags," he told them. "Go find your friend. Either you persuade him to come back to Notre Dame, or you don't come back."
The approach worked for everyone concerned, and it may offer an idea for easing the incivility that marks much public discourse and leads to political stalemate. We need to try harder to persuade one another—to try to get people to change their minds.
There isn't nearly enough persuasion going on in America today, and there was too little, in the view of many citizens, in the past presidential campaign. A postelection Pew poll found that the 2012 campaign was a "frustrating experience" for many voters: 68% said there was more "negative campaigning and mudslinging," with less discussion of issues.
The recent fiscal-cliff negotiations might have ended in a budget deal, but the rhetoric during the wrangling was hardly of the persuasive variety.
That is likely because much of the election campaigning and much of the budget discussion wasn't designed to change anyone's mind, but instead to encourage people to believe more deeply what they already believed—not about policies, for the most part, but about the villainy of the other side.
In the presidential campaign, the negative ads and speeches may have been unfortunately effective. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from last summer reported that 70% of Republicans saw President Obama in a strongly unfavorable light, and 57% of Democrats had a very unfavorable view of Gov. Romney. These were historically very high numbers for two presidential contenders.
As a country, we seem to have become the factions James Madison warned against in 1787, when he wrote: "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points . . . have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good." A more earnest effort to persuade one another could help remedy many of the problems we face.
I confess that I am deeply biased. I am a university president with a strong belief in the power and importance of a liberal arts education. I believe that deep and candid dialogue, marked by many acts of courtesy and gestures of respect, is a discipline that brings us nearer the truth about ourselves, about our opponents, about human nature, and about the subject under debate. To shut down this source of wisdom because we are too angry to hear the other side is a tragic setback in our quest for knowledge and our hope for a healthy society.
What if, instead of dealing with opponents by demonizing them and distorting their views, we were to take some steps to persuade them? I don't mean to suggest that one could persuade a stalwart partisan to switch parties, but perhaps one could persuade another that a particular policy or a position is "not as bad as you think."
If I am trying to persuade others, I first have to understand their position, which means I have to listen to them. I have to appeal to their values, which means I have to show them respect. I have to find the best arguments for my position, which means I have to think about my values in the context of their concerns. I have to answer their objections, which means I have to work honestly with their ideas. I have to ask them to listen to me, which means I can't insult them.
If we earnestly try to persuade, civility takes care of itself.
Civility is sometimes derided in the modern world, where bluntness and even coarseness have somehow come to be celebrated in many quarters. But civility is not a minor virtue. It is not an attempt to impose someone's notion of courtesy, and it is certainly not an attempt to suppress speech. Civility is what allows speech to be heard. It is an appeal to citizens never to express or incite hatred, which is more dangerous to the country than any external enemy.
A more sincere effort to persuade one another would remind us why the Founders believed this country could improve on history: We were the first society in many centuries with the chance to use free speech and sound argument to debate our way toward a better future.
That path is still open, and as promising as ever.
Father Jenkins is president of the University of Notre Dame. His book "Conviction: The Power and Peril of Our Passionate Beliefs" will be published by Random House later this year.

A version of this article appeared January 9, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Persuasion as the Cure for Incivility.

Quick Follow-up to the Coke Bottle Light Story - Another Video from the Philippines

As a quick follow-up to yesterday's post about a low cost way to bring solar light using soda bottles, I would like to  share these additional YouTube videos that show a little more of the details of how to make and install the light fixture.

YouTube Video of Soda Bottle Light Installation in the Philippines

Here are addition videos that give step-by-step instructions - "How to Build a Solar Light Bulb"

How to Build a Solar Light Bulb

Let there be light!


How An Unexpected Aroma Can Trigger Nostalgia - Smelling the Donuts

I just had an experience that I feel led to share with readers of The White Rhino Report.  My office at Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) in Kendall Square, Cambridge, is in a building that houses over 400 start-up companies.  It also houses, on the ground floor, a Dunkin' Donuts.  Tenants of the building and delivery personnel can gain access to the store through a little-known back entrance that you arrive at after weaving your way down a narrow corridor.  I do not often use that entrance, but today I chose to do so.  As I opened the door and made my way down the corridor, I was overwhelmed with the rich aroma of fresh donuts.  In a nano-second, I was transported back to my boyhood on Purchase Street in  the South End of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  We lived at number 31 Purchase St (actually 31 1/2, but that is a story for another time).  45 Purchase Street was the address of Hicks Bakery.  Each morning, all of the denizens of that part of Joppa would awaken to the breeze blowing off of the Merrimac River - redolent of both the bouquet of low tide on the clam flats and the yeasty smell of fresh bread and donuts.

I had friends and neighbors whose parents either worked at the bakery or owned the business, so I was able to make frequent forays into the back end of the shop where all the hard work was done.  It was heaven.  I still recall the wonder  that I felt the day that I was introduced to the machine that injected the jelly into the jelly donuts.  I felt as if I were in Oz peering behind the Wizard's curtain.

So strong was the wave of nostalgia that hit me this morning at Dunkin' Donuts that after finishing my coffee (French vanilla) and donut (Boston cream), I returned to my desk and did a Goggle search of "Hicks Bakery."

If you would like to remember with me those halcyon days when the Boston & Maine spur track ran through the heart of the South End - and through my back yard - enjoy this article from 2007 that I found in by Ulrike G. Gerth. article about the South End ofNewburyport

A view of Purchase Street, featuring the late Bill Sayward, long-time baker at Hicks'  He and his family lived next door to the bakery.

Ah, the sweet aroma of memory.



Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training presents The Pretense of Morality Around the World: Three One Act Plays by George Bernard Shaw

Many of us who live in the Boston-Cambridge area consider the A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater)  and the Loeb Drama Center to be our own special cultural institution - the artistic equivalent of the Red Sox and Fenway Park. (These two institutions combined forces wonderfully a couple of summers ago with the stirring production of "Johnny Baseball.")  In addition to the Main Stage productions like "Pippin" and the soon-to-open "Glass Menagerie," the A.R.T., in collaboration with the Moscow Art Theater Institute, often offers intriguing smaller productions in its Experimental Theater.  I am pleased to make the readers of The White Rhino Report aware of just such a special offering.  Come join me for a Shavian experience later this month.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +

A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training
The Pretense of Morality Around the World: Three One Act Plays
by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Scott Zigler
January 18-26
Loeb Drama Center — Experimental Theater

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theater School Institute for Advanced Theater Training continues its 2012-13 Season with George Bernard Shaw’s three one-act plays entitled The Pretense of Morality Around the World, directed by A.R.T. Institute director Scott Zigler. The production runs January 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, and 26 at 7:30pm at Experimental Theater of the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge.

George Bernard Shaw's examination of human hypocrisy canvases an impressive array of world cultures, taking us to the American Wild West with "religious tract in dramatic form" The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, to the court of imperial Russia's most famous Tsarina with Great Catherine, and back home to Victorian Britain with the sexual farce Overruled. Under the direction of Scott Zigler, the A.R.T Institute class of 2013 brings life to  Shaw's captivating characters, men and women united across great space by a desperation to believe they are doing the right thing.

Scott Zigler’s A.R.T. directing credits include Romance, Copenhagen, Animals and Plants, Cryptogram, Absolution, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Old Neighborhood (world premiere, also on Broadway); and the world premiere of Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq with the A.R.T. Institute. He is an Atlantic Theater Company founding member and past Artistic Director, credits include the premiere of Tom Donaghy’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, The Woods, Sure Thing, Strawberry Fields, Suburban News, and As You Like It. He directed the world premiere of Dust off Broadway and the national tour of Oleanna, and numerous regional theater productions, including most recently November for Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.  

Tickets are $15, and can be purchased by calling the A.R.T. Box Office at (617) 547-8300; or online at

The Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard was established in 1987 by the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) as a training ground for the professional American theater. Its programs are fully integrated with the activities of the A.R.T. In the summer of 1998, the Institute commenced a historic joint program with the Moscow Art Theater (MXAT) School. Students engage with two invaluable resources: the work of the A.R.T. and that of the MXAT, as well as their affiliated schools. Together, this exclusive partnership offers students opportunities for training and growth unmatched by any program in the country. The core program features a rigorous two-year, five-semester period of training in acting, dramaturgy, or voice pedagogy, during which students work closely with the professionals at the A.R.T. and the MXAT as well as with the best master teachers from the United States and Russia. At the end of the program, students receive a Certificate of Achievement from the faculty of the American Repertory Theater and an M.F.A. Degree from the faculty of the Moscow Art Theater School. Further information about this program can be obtained by calling the Institute at (617) 495-2668 or online at:

Looking at Things in a New Light - A Simple and Brilliant Engineering Idea

My son, Ti, just posted on FaceBook, a link to this amazing idea for using empty 2-liter Coke bottles filled with water and bleach as replacements for light bulbs.  I immediately thought of many friends in Haiti and elsewhere around the world for whom this idea could be a great boon.  You probably know of others with whom this idea should be shared, so I encourage you to pass the information along, and even to try the idea yourself if practicable.

"Here’s a way to brighten up enclosed spaces in an environmentally friendly way. The power of the sun is harnessed using a bottle full of water. Quite simply they’re used 2-liter soda bottles. They’ve been filled with water along with two caps worth of bleach to keep microorganisms out. The cap is then covered with a film canister to protect it from the sun. They are installed through holes in the roof, and in full sun they put out the equivalent of a 50 watt incandescent light bulb."

This information appears in a Blog entitled: Well Done Stuff  Click on the link to watch a 2-minute video.

Keep the creative ideas flowing.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Revisiting The Role of Chief of Staff - A Growing Trend

One of my earliest Blog postings addressed the role of Chief of Staff in the private sector.  At the time that I wrote the White Paper that I shared in that Blog posting, it was rare to find a corporation that was employing a Chief of Staff in support of a CEO or Chairman of the Board.  In the intervening few years, I have become aware of a significant increase in the awareness of the effectiveness of a Chief of Staff in optimizing the performance of a C-level executive.  

As a result of the Blog post and the White Paper being available on line, I have received countless inquires regarding the Chief of Staff role.  Companies have hired me to help them to define and create such a role, to search for and to hire a Chief of Staff.  Women and men working in the role of Chief of Staff have reached out to me to ask for advice and for help in networking with others operating in similar roles.  One result of these interactions has been the creation of a LinkedIn Group for Corporate Chiefs of Staff.

With the increased awareness of this role and its importance, I have been asked to re-address the issue.  So, I have updated and revised the White Paper, and share it with you today.

It is my desire that in reading this comprehensive treatment of the role of Chief of Staff, you may be motivated to think about creating such a role within your organization or sharing this information with those in your network who may also have a need for someone to serve in this role.  I look forward to working with you in creating and filling the role of Chief of Staff to make you an even more effective leader.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +    +   +   +   +   +   +

Chief of Staff – A Force Multiplier!


Dr. Al Chase
White Rhino Partners

A few years ago, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Boston University School of Management.  The two keynote speakers were Lee Iacocca and James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche.  In preparation for hearing Mr. Quigley speak, I read his bio printed in the conference program.  What jumped out at me immediately was the fact that early in his career with D&T Quigley has served in the role of Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chairman.

I had already begun to be intrigued with the role of Chief of Staff – a role I am convinced is under-utilized in the business world.  Since many of the candidates I place are military veterans, through learning of their careers, I have become familiar with the military functional role of the XO – Executive Officer.  The Navy’s Command Leadership School in Newport, RI devotes an entire course to training XO’s to function in their role as “Second in Command.”  A friend of mine, a West Point graduate and Desert Storm combat veteran, recently spent several years as Chief of Staff supporting the Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 100 Company.  My friend calls the role of the Chief of Staff a “force multiplier.”  Properly deployed, a good Chief of Staff can magnify the effective of the C-level executive he or she is supporting.  Yet I find that it is the rare company that employs a Chief of Staff.  Even rarer is the corporation that has a Chief of Staff and utilizes that person and that role to full effect.

During the course of the BU Symposium, I had several opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with Mr. Quigley, and to query him on his background as a former Chief of Staff.  In answer to my question about his retrospective look at his early role as Chief of Staff, the gist of his answer could best be summarized as follows:

“I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not been given that extraordinary opportunity early in my career.  I was rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with all of the strategic decision makers in the company.  I was exposed to ideas, challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that most people at my age and at my stage of career never dreaming about.  In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visual leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

I was interested in testing out whether, in his current role as CEO at Deloitte & Touche, Quigley still held as high a view of the role of Chief of Staff as he had early in his career.  In my last meeting with him that day, I asked: “Do you currently have someone serving in the capacity of Chief of Staff in support of you?”

Quigley answered: “No; I have three different persons in that role, each one providing invaluable support in a specific area of supportive strategic initiatives.”

There is the proof of the pudding!

Chief of Staff - A Force Multiplier
Part II – Functional Roles of a Chief of Staff
In this section, I would like to examine some of the specific functional roles a good Chief of Staff should be able to perform on behalf of the C-level being supported.  My observations are based upon a composite of several Fortune 500 companies with whom I have discussed Chief of Staff roles over the course of the past few months.  These companies include leaders in Consumer Packaged Goods, Electronic Trading, Consulting and Telecommunications.  For the purpose of describing these functional roles, we will assume that the Chief of Staff is serving in support of a CEO or Chairman of the Board.
·          The Chief of Staff Role does not replace the role of a good Executive Assistant. The COS and the EA work hand-in-hand to ensure that the CEO’s time is planned and expended with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.  In short, the EA functions in an administrative capacity – managing calendar, appointments, travel logistics, etc.  The COS operates at a tactical, strategic and operational level, often handling the oversight of projects that do not neatly fit within the organizational chart or fall between departments or leaders areas of responsibility.

·         The COS is best used in tracking strategic initiatives by monitoring progress towards meeting goals and achieving benchmarks, analyzing data, ensuring follow-through on the part of key players, and sustaining momentum needed to drive these initiatives.

·         The COS reviews action items decided upon at each strategic meeting. He/she prepares a written summary, checks with each attendee to get sign-off on agreed-upon dates of completion and confirms the party responsible for following up on each action item.

·         Between meetings, the COS stays connected with members of the committee, collecting data, alerting the CEO to progress or problems in carrying out the initiatives agreed upon.

·         The COS creates and operates a reporting system that allows for a timely flow of necessary data into the office of the CEO from all relevant departments and direct reports.

·         The COS assists the CEO in developing communication between committee meetings, setting agendas, creating initial drafts of communications to key strategic team members, helping to prioritize plans for addressing issues that are impacting progress towards initiative benchmarks.

·         The COS serves as a first alert system – an extra set of eyes and ears – keeping the CEO aware of unanticipated problems to be addressed or opportunities to be considered.

·         The COS develops and oversees a process for capturing, cataloging, analyzing and disseminating key lessons to be learned from initiatives, with a view towards helping the CEO propagate best practices throughout the enterprise.

·         The COS functions in the role of “ambassador” for the CEO, buffering communication with other members of the strategic team in cases where there are sensitive issues to be addressed.

Here is an example of this role in practice:

COS calls Brand Manager for Brand XYZ:

“Tony, this is Sharon. We agreed that next Tuesday you would meet with Bob to report on progress in changing the packaging. You mentioned in your weekly report that your design team is three weeks behind in agreeing upon a new package. I know that Bob is very concerned that if we can’t deliver the next packaging on schedule, we are going to lose more market share. I know your meeting next Tuesday will go well if you come with a specific plan for how to get this project back on track before the next Board meeting. See you Tuesday at 9:00."

It would take a pretty extraordinary individual to be able to juggle all of these balls, satisfy all of the key stake holders, massage sensitive egos and do it all with efficiency and grace.
Such an individual would have to have developed a robust set of hard skills and soft skills.  In the next section, we will take a look at these specific skills and intangible traits needed to be an outstanding Chief of Staff.

Chief of Staff - A Force Multiplier

Part III –Specific Skills Needed to Succeed As Chief of Staff

We now turn our attention to examining the professional characteristics, functional skills and personal traits that are required of a stellar Chief of Staff.

A Chief of Staff must possess in abundance a well-balanced arsenal of what are often called “hard skills” and “soft skills.”


·         Project management – Each strategic initiative being tracked on behalf of the CEO whom the Chief of Staff supports is a project to be managed.  Inherent in the oversight of these initiatives are the sub-skills of:
o   Multi-tasking
o   Time management
o   Prioritization
o   Benchmarking
o   Trouble shooting
o   Reporting

·         Information gathering and analysis – The COS needs to be able to create and to utilize systems (both formal and informal) for gathering on behalf of his/her boss reliable information on what is happening throughout the enterprise with regard to the strategic initiatives being tracked.

o   This aspect of the job can be a challenge, since those charged with providing timely updates are not direct reports to the COS.  This aspect of the job requires a high level of sophistication in communications, interpersonal relations and diplomacy on the part of the COS. (See soft skills below)

·         A keen mind and multi-focal intelligence – The COS will be juggling many balls in support of the boss.  She/he must have a quick but thorough grasp of the salient issues and details of each initiative to be able to make evaluations and recommendations to the CEO.  This is tantamount to being a “jack of all trades” and “master of all”!

·         Poise and grace under pressure – The pressure to perform at the highest level will be relentless, since by definition, each strategic initiative is mission-critical and crucial to the well being of the organization.  No unimportant matters float up to the CEO to be addressed.

·         Finely honed communication skills – The COS will need to be able to communicate in writing and verbally with great precision and effectiveness:

o   Upwards to the CEO
o   Laterally to others on the executive team
o   Downwards throughout the organizational chart
o   Externally to other organizations


·         Unimpeachable integrity – By reputation and by consistent performance, the COS must be viewed by the C-level executive as utterly trustworthy.  Each stakeholder must also be confident that the COS is operating on a solid ethical foundation of personal values that are transparent.

·         Selflessness – The COS must gain satisfaction from serving in a support role, and not feel the need to be in the limelight or receive public acclaim for victories and successes.

·         Emotional stability and resilience– Because of the high stakes attached to each strategic initiative that is being tracked, and by virtue of the high level of accountability that is expected of each player, the atmosphere in which the COS works is one of high pressure and high expectations.  Thin-skinned and easily bruised egos need not apply!

·         The ability to give and receive constructive criticism – Human nature and the nature of organizational behavior almost guarantee that the COS will often be operating in an environment when one or more initiatives are off-track, over-budget and behind-schedule.  Supporting the boss in holding individuals accountable, coaching and correcting their performance is a crucial skill.

·         Diplomacy skills – The COS will often be expected to represent the boss in dealing with individuals whose teams may have missed deadlines or benchmarks.  Careers, bonuses and promotions may be on the line, so the COS often operates in a volatile environment in which the wrong word or the wrong tone of voice could derail a delicate situation.

·         Keen judgment – The COS must often make instantaneous choices about:

o   What to bring to the attention of the boss and what to shield her/him from;
§  The ability to “triage” information and determine when the boss needs to get it is also important. 
o   When to speak and when to remain silent;
o   When to intervene and when to let things run their course;
o   What information is reliable and what needs to be questioned and challenged;
o   How to respond to unanticipated developments;
o   How to best keep the boss focused on the top priorities;
o   How to help the boss see clearly through the “fog of war.”
o   When you’re speaking for the boss and when you’re speaking for yourself.

Wow!  We just described Superman or Wonder Woman.  Do such paragons of virtue exist in the real world?  We will address this crucial issue in our next section.

Chief of Staff - A Force Multiplier

Part IV –Finding the Right Person to Serve As Chief of Staff

The kind of person who meets all of the requirements described above is rare indeed.  And such an extraordinarily gifted individual would also have to be content and fulfilled serving in a “support role.” Where would one find such an individual?

My friend, John Byington, reminded me the other day of a terrific and apt quotation.  The line comes from the Korean War era film, “The Bridges of Toko Ri” and has been oft repeated: "Where do we find such men [and women]?"

From my experience as an executive recruiter, I can point to three primary sources where I have been able to discover individuals who possess the panoply of skills, traits and characteristics that are the hallmark of a great Chief of Staff:

2)      Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal.
3)      Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Before describing in detail these three pools of potential Chiefs of Staff, let me offer the observation that the role of COS can be structured in two primary ways:
a)      As a role that the candidate would fill on a long-term basis – 5-10 years or more.  In this scenario, the COS sees himself/herself as a “Career XO” – a person who is content to remain in a strategically important behind the scenes role in support of a C-level executive.

b)      As a transitional role that is part of an overall approach to succession planning.  In this scenario, the COS serves for 2-3 years in a strategic support role with the understanding that at the end of that term of service, she/he will be given a general management role with P&L responsibility – Division President, Brand Manager, etc.  During the final year in the COS role, there would be a period of overlap – selecting, training and transitioning in a new COS to carry on seamlessly the support functions.   

Now, back to the three pools of candidates . . .

1)      Military officers who have retired after a full career

This type of candidate fits best in the long term COS role.  For many men and women who have served our nation for 20 years or more, they still desire to make a contribution and build a fulfilling second career that will leverage the depth of experiences and breadth of skills they have acquired in leading troops and running programs.  For the officer who is temperamentally fitted for the COS role, fancy job titles and an opportunity for climbing up the corporate ladder are not priorities.  Having succeeded in being promoted consistently over the course of a distinguished military career, this candidate possess finely honed project management skills, communication skills, sophisticated diplomatic sensibilities and the ability to fully utilize to the company’s advantage both the formal and the informal power structures.

2)      Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal.  Let me offer a composite description of a typical candidate in this category.  This person is best-suited for the transition role – serving 2-3 years as COS before ascending to a GM role:

·         Graduate of United State Naval Academy, US Marine Corps military intelligence officer whose assignments included a stint supporting Gen. Wesley Clark in his role as Commander of NATO and US forces in Europe.  MBA from MIT Sloan School of business, summer internship and two-year stint as a strategy consultant in the Boston office of Bain & Co.

This “young Turk” is just the kind of leader that a visionary company would want to attract, develop and “fast track” into a senior position.  This extraordinarily gifted and precocious top-achiever will not be attracted to or sufficiently challenged by most rotational training programs designed to groom future leaders, but would thrive in a properly conceived COS role in support of a mentoring C-level executive.

3)      Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Once again, let me offer a description of a composite candidate from this pool:

BA from Columbia, MBA or continuing education programs from Stern School of Business at NYU.  Over the years, functional roles have includes Director of Sales and Marketing, Director of Business development, Program Manager/Project Manager for mission-critical initiatives, Managing Director Client services.

Because of lifestyle choices, family situation, travel restrictions, etc., this gifted administrator and manager is happy to climb off of the treadmill leading to the top of the organizational chart, and spend the next 10+ years of her/his career leveraging a wealth of experience in support of a CEO, COB, CIO, COO, etc.

In the final section dedicated to the role of the Chief of Staff, we will add some final thoughts and nuances, sum up salient points, and make recommendations on ways to implement the creation of this role.

Chief of Staff - A Force Multiplier

Part V - Final Thoughts

USN Captain Mike Abrashoff (Ret.), former skipper of the USS Benfold, a.k.a. “The Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” has written an insightful first book that is relevant to our examination of the role of the Chief of Staff.  His book is entitled: “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.”  Early in his career, Abrashoff served as an Admiral’s aide in Subic Bay, Philippines.  One of his statements from page 22 jumped out at me:

“I was twenty-five years old at the time, and most twenty-five-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to see how the organization runs at a senior level.  It was good training, which businesses could give their up-and-coming young people by making them executive assistants to the top officers.”

Capt. Abrashoff uses the term “executive assistants,” but in context, it is clear that he is really talking about the Chief of Staff role as we have discussed in this paper.  His comments almost exactly echo the words of James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche – words that I quoted above:

“I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not been given that extraordinary opportunity early in my career.  I was rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with all of the strategic decision makers in the company.  I was exposed to ideas, challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that most people at my age and at my stage of career never dreaming about.  In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visual leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

The message is pretty clear. A number of young leaders with extraordinary leadership potential have been encouraged in the development and deployment of these leadership gifts by being given the opportunity to function in the role of Chief of Staff, XO, or whatever term that organization may choose to put on a role that services as a ”force multiplier” in support of a C-level executive.  When structured correctly, a Chief of Staff role provides a triple win:

  • The CEO wins because he is freed up to be able to concentrate his time, effort and priorities of strategic initiatives.  He is empowered to “keep the main thing the main thing”!
  • The organization wins because its leader is leading more effectively and the COS role is adding to succession planning by attracting, grooming and retaining an unusually gifted up-and-coming leader.
  • The Chief of Staff wins because his/her career trajectory is raised and he/she is able to make a major contribution while being mentored and groomed by a seasoned leader.

Ed Cusati, a corporate consultant specializing in improving the effective of Board of Directors, has been kind enough to share with me a flow diagram that points out the complex interactions among all of the stakeholders that must be taken into consideration in creating within an organization a Chief of Staff role.  The CEO, potential Chief of Staff, and Direct Reports must all – from their own vantage point - wrestle with the potential objections and benefits of creating a Chief of Staff role.

Through the amazing network of relationship I have been blessed to develop with some extraordinary men and women, I have access to an unmatched pool of potential Chiefs of Staff.  It occurs to me that because of this rare access to a unique talent pool, and because of my awareness of the effectiveness of a properly deployed Chief of Staff, the role of evangelist for the COS role has been thrust upon me.

So, how can we help each other to move things forward?

I would welcome an opportunity to enter into conversations with companies that you know could use a Chief of Staff.  In the situation in which the role has already been utilized in the company, I would like to be in a position to help that company to identify and to hire the next person to fill the role.  In the case of a company that is just beginning to consider creating such a role, I would welcome a chance to come in and consult with the strategic leaders to define then role, and then to help the company to fill that role with their first COS.

I would appreciate your efforts in joining me to evangelize for the expansion of the role of the COS within corporate America.